This I Believe: I Believe in Students
I believe in students. I didn’t always – when I first left the rocket business and began a teaching career, I believed in the organization of the content. Well organized content would allow the materials to slide right onto the students minds and they would all be great mathematicians. So, I believed in the curriculum – until I taught kindergarten and discovered Piaget. He was interested in why students gave wrong answers. And instead of telling them the correct answer, he investigated by asking students questions. And he discovered, as I did when I asked the right questions, that the students had their own version of reality. And it worked for them – it explained the world within their understanding. The 8th grader who explained how he bought a new slot car racer – including the cost, how he paid and the change he received, but failed the test when I used his example in class the next week. He had a world view of the real world and a different one of the school world and I realized that one of my jobs was to make both worlds successful. The kindergarten girl who came up to me on one of those days when the moon is visible in the morning and said, “Mr.O – why is the moon following me?” was also an example. My response was “Ah, here’s the teachable moment” – so we talked about distance and perspective ( the road looks like it gets narrower but it really doesn’t) and she nodded to everything I said. The next month, she said, “Mr. O – the moon is still following me.” When I realized students explain things from their world view, my understanding changed. I realized I never had a student give me a wrong answer on purpose – even when I assumed they just didn’t know, their answer revealed their understanding – if I were smart enough to find it. So I believe in students – they, like all of us, work on a world view that makes it possible for them to function in the world. Even those who were discipline problems were following a process that worked for them – it got them something but in a different setting than school. I had to help them add to their world view the skills to get something from school. When I believed in the curriculum, I tried to make the students fit the curriculum. When I believed in students, I tried to make the curriculum fit the students. I discovered that when I believed in students, I seemed to laugh more, to find teaching more interesting than even rocket science and I was more challenged daily. So, yes, I believe in students. Because, in life, we are all students! Life is better because I believe that.
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